Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:1-11
It is ten or eleven years now since Paul first shared the gospel with a group of women on the riverbank outside Philippi, a Roman colony. Lydia, an apparently wealthy woman, a seller of purple cloth, was his first disciple in Philippi to become a follower of Jesus. Planting this church in Philippi was different from earlier church plants because there was no synagogue in Philippi. It was a pagan Roman city but did have some God-fearers, people who, while not Jews, did believe in the God of the Jews and did pray to him. Such was Lydia.
What was common with earlier church plants in Paul’s life was his imprisonment. It seems Paul always either ended up in jail or thrown out of town after being beaten or stoned. The life of an apostle was not a comfortable life. You can read about Paul’s experience in Philippi in Act 16.
I am impressed by this section of Scripture with how we can see Paul’s heart. He felt a deep kinship with the Philippian believers because they had partnered with him in the gospel. They weren’t just recipients but protagonists. They joined in the vision and work of the gospel.
I can see the smile on his face as he pens this letter to his friends, his partners, his fellow partakers of God’s grace in Jesus. He wasn’t writing to fix a problem as was most often the case in Paul’s letters. This is a sort of love letter that can only really be understood by someone who, like Paul, is a disciple-maker. He is writing to his disciples who have also made disciples of Christ and are participating in the furthering of the kingdom of God by supporting Paul in his apostolic mission.
What Paul is sharing with these friends is supernatural. They aren’t just “business partners,” they are fellow partakers in the grace of Christ.
This book of Philippians is so positive and uplifting I don’t want to write thoughts that could be a downer, but I have to ask, can you feel what Paul was feeling? Do you have a sense of what it is to have a partnership in the gospel with other believers, that supernatural bond of love? I may be wrong about this, but I’m not sure it is possible for one to identify with what Paul is experiencing if one has never made disciples of Christ. Jesus did leave a mission for us all to make disciples of all nations.
Can you name the disciples you have made? I am loathed to lay on anyone a guilt trip, but I also believe we need to speak the truth in love. If you can’t name anyone whom you have discipled into Christ or discipled into a more mature place as a follower of Jesus, then maybe you have yet to participate fully in this mission to which Jesus has called us all. I believe it is only from that vantage point that we can really identify with the affection Paul describes.
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
To wrap this up on a positive note, let’s be reminded of what Paul said about the Philippians and realize it applies to us all.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.